At 6pm on Friday, June 6, after watching two pretty underwhelming sets from Kurt Vile and Washed Out—live performances that seem to adhere to an offshoot of stoicism specific to indie rock—I showed up at a white tent bannered “VOLUNTEER HQ” (all caps). I gave the girl behind the Macbook Pro my name, to which she responded by tapping away at the laptop’s backlit keyboard. She handed me a men’s large sea-green volunteer shirt. It had the Governors Ball logo on the front and the hashtag “#YOUREDOINGGREAT” on the back. I was told that I was working the silent disco and that I should wait by the pair of blue Sennheiser flags until I was needed. So I waited and watched as scantily clad girls and tank topped boys wearing Sennheiser wireless headphones took selfies as they performed some facsimile of a dance in the relative silence of the tent.
I only went to Governors Ball because my friends were going. In order to bypass the $230 (plus $20 non-refundable processing fee) price of a three-day ticket, I decided to volunteer for the festival. All I had to do was give the festival a $250 down payment (plus $20 non-refundable processing fee) that would be returned upon fulfillment of my five-hours-a-day volunteering obligation. I’d resigned myself to missing those five hours a day, most likely filling the forever-emptying bottles of inebriated festivalgoers.
But here I was, sitting next to a tent sponsored by a German audio company, gearing myself up for handing out wireless headphones for the next five hours. And that’s exactly what I did from 6:30 to 11:15—hand out headphones and disappoint people by telling them they couldn’t bring their $13 25-ounce cans of Foster’s beer inside the tent. “We don’t do any of this” Adrian—an Australian—said, pointing to instructions for an “Australian drinking game” on one side of the can.
About two hours into my shift, when I could feel the overpowering bass of Grimes’ set, I realized that I had virtually no supervision. I could leave at any time, and no one would notice. Then I could just sign back in with Volunteer HQ and they’d think that I had completed my shift. And in case I needed an example, a kid named Rahul did just that. Hopefully he caught Outkast’s set, which sounded like it was good from the distance of the disco.
The next day, my friend and I were working the first shift, so we got to Randall’s Island at about nine-thirty in the morning. When we walked up to the front entrance, a guy on the security team stopped us and asked why we were there so early. We said we were volunteering, pulled our volunteer shirts from our backpacks and walked right through the gate without having to show our tickets. He didn’t even check our bags. It turns out that a volunteer t-shirt is just as good as a ticket (the next day we gave the shirt to our friend Bryan, who was able to get into the festival [they didn’t check his bag either] even though he didn’t have a Sunday ticket).
When we checked in, we were told we were on the high five team. Our only job was to stand at the bus drop-off zone under the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and give people high fives as they got off the buses. This was a part of the festival’s goal to disseminate positivity throughout the ranks, but they probably didn’t need over twenty people for this particular “job.” It was only about eleven in the morning, so buses carrying no more than twenty people each rolled in. Most of the volunteers were sitting on the concrete next to Icahn Stadium on their phones, probably texting their friends a genus of, “This whole volunteering thing is bullshit/easy as hell.” After the third bus, a supervisor came down the hill and asked for four volunteers to help carry some tables, and since anything seemed better than the dwarfing feeling of the bridge, we decided to help out. We re-entered the festival wearing our shirts (a security guard smiled at me as I passed him) and collectively re-located three tables under the guidance of a different supervisor. Our new table-placement supervisor told us to find another supervisor to tell us what to do.
This was the “Fuck it” moment. We walked over to the port-o-potties and changed into our other t-shirts. Riding the high of our perceived badassery, we caught all of Diarrhea Planet’s absolutely ripping performance (climbing up the lighting tower/“Hey Ya” cover/shout outs to both Shea Stadium and Death By Audio) and Deafheaven’s blissfully abrasive set, which we wouldn’t have been able to see had we stayed and half-heartedly high fived every frat bro that passed by us under the RFK Bridge. By the time Deafheaven finished it was three in the afternoon, so we went back to Volunteer HQ and gave the girl sitting behind the Macbook Pro our names, to which she responded by tapping away at the backlit keyboard. She told us we were good to go for the day.
We’d figured it out by the time Sunday rolled around. My friend and I checked in at six, then immediately left and watched James Blake’s sort-of boring set (he does have a beautiful voice though). I’m just glad we got to get our suburbia on for about twenty minutes at Vampire Weekend’s set. While waiting for eleven o’clock to come, we walked over by the Honda stage to watch AXWELL Λ INGROSSO from a healthy distance. In between the EDM hurls at approximately 120 beats-per-minute and fireworks flaring just next to the RFK Bridge, a man in one of the food tents threw us each a pork bun wrapped in aluminum foil (I guess festival closing time is also throw-pork-product-at-the-nearest-hungry-looking-kids time). Once we’d finished indulging in our free pork, it was past eleven, so we walked back to Volunteer HQ, gave our names to the girl behind the MacBook Pro, received high fives for completing our volunteer “work,” and left the festival. Or at least that’s what we tried to do as thousands of festivalgoers attempted to funnel onto the pedestrian walkway of the RFK Bridge, which echoed with group incantations of the bassline of “Seven Nation Army” and applause for a guy holding up an exponentially enlarged paper cutout of Steve Buscemi’s bug-eyed countenance. After twenty minutes of darting between the sluggish and sunburned bodies of the festivalgoers, we finally reached East Harlem. It was a pretty appalling sight: a migration of predominately white music “lovers.” The BP station on 126th Street was riddled with trash (as were the sidewalks between the RFK Bridge and Lexington Avenue), and there was barely room to breath on the Brooklyn-bound 4/5/6 platform at 125th Street. When the 6 train arrived, the festivalgoers immediately pushed their way into the car, completely ignoring the two people that had to force their way out against the current of people flying in towards them.
At about 96th Street, the kid sitting across from me regurgitated whatever he had just eaten. With a sprinkle of kid-vom on my left leg and exhaustion reaching levels of falling over, I finally got home an hour and a half later than I should have. But at least I got free pork and music out of the whole thing.
In the end, I just hope that the people at Governors Ball don’t see this, because they still have my down payment. Oh well.